March plays out the last of winter with that unexpected late snowfall. The gardening spirit quickens within us, swept on by the gusty breezes; increasingly, we become impatient for spring. It's basketball tournament time and the St. Patrick's Day parade, and Lenten fasts and final preparations for the social season of spring -- and finally, early Easter itself. March is not all play and prayer; the winter pace surges as spring gardening approaches. These warming days bring on a season of noticeable growth, wild greens and happy birds, scurrying varmints and bubbling creeks. New life is coming and we are able to celebrate it. Thank God!
Source of happy exclamation, Grand sighting of floral spring, First bloom of the season, Herald of new birth: "I saw a blooming crocus."
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Using Kentucky native limestone for construction of herb bed.. (*photo credit)
March 1, 2016 Preparing for Seasonal Change
All our senses are attune to the changes that are starting to occur before us. We are preparing to welcome a rebirth of the world around us and thus a new-found joy surges within us -- even in the midst of this solemn Lenten season.
New Sights appear. The first signs of greenery, even though somewhat difficult to detect, marks the true observer. Before the month ends we in Kentucky will see the faint pink of the redbud as we marvel that so many such unassuming bushes abound among our landscape. By the month's end forsythia branches are covered with yellow flowers giving delight to eyes in need of bright color. Serviceberry blooms also catch the eye of nature's true viewers. Be the first to spread some wild flower seed to make a wildscape.
Sounds awaken us. It is the shout of children happy to shed the heaviest of winterwear, often far too soon. The birds seem to return earlier each year. Is it a sign of climate change? If so, let's hope all wildlife has the time to readjust. The wild geese did not completely leave, but their March honking has a special chant. Listen attentively, some bird sounds of both permanent or migratory varieties are mating calls. While some sounds are good, we residents can't forget the frightening roar of flood waters and the helplessness when experiencing the surging tide at the door.
Smells are distinct now. Spring awakens the delicate flowers whose attractive scent demands that we stoop low, and the hearty dandelion bloom may be one of the first to greet us. The first spears of tulip leaves and the purple and white violets, snowdrop, crocuses and other very early flowers give us a sense of springtime coming on the Equinox. Don't forget the distinctive odor of upturned soil, though harder to detect than that of composting manure. The nose knows and tells us spring is coming.
Tastes change with the season. Wild garlic and the greening dandelion invite the first mess of the season's wild greens. One particular taste in the closing of Lent is that of the bitter herb; tear-inducing horseradish is for Passover festivals and for meat dishes -- and to be eaten when consuming the colorful Easter eggs.
Feelings surge. How grateful the warming sun makes us feel when the breezes cease for a short period. Whether windy or calm, March becomes a beacon of seasonal change. It is time to bend down and touch the soil in the act of ground-breaking and tilling, and just meeting Earth once again. We make further decisions on how, when and where to turn the soil, prepare the beds, plant the brassica seedlings (kale, collards, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower) as well as spinach, carrots, radishes, and leaf, Bibb and Romaine lettuce and other greens.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to change and grow with the season and to give ourselves fully to the work at hand with an open and refreshed heart.
March 2, 2016 Candidates, Silence and Partisanship
Does history repeat itself in subtle ways? And are we preparing to see America in 2017 become what Germany experienced in 1933 (my birth year)? Aren't resemblances greater than differences: A dismay about the disarray of the nation? A divided electorate? An articulate spokesman who is really from outside the current elected system? Someone who casts blame on a sizeable portion of the population who are regarded as outsiders? A possible half hidden solution utilizing large numbers of boxcars? A half-hearted population that thinks that deportation is a joke?
Yes, Germany 83 years ago and now America have similarities. Furthermore, for the greater part, many church leaders remained silent, as also today, in order to stay clear of politics (except elderly Pope Pius XI in the 1930s and Francis today who call such political policies "unchristian"). Silence today is a partisan issue when one must speak out for the oppressed immigrant who may be uprooted from home or family and faces deportation to Mexico.
Certainly there are differences in appearances between leaders then and now: language, facial hair, use of comb, personalities and issues, but do not both leaders exhibit a flare for personal power? Demand adherence by followers? Exhibit autocratic leadership? And feel impelled to talk bluntly and to the point? Do not both desire the greatness of what seems to have been lost (a Reich or America's past glory)? Do both want full employment though not fully defined how? Do both tinker with the tool called the military and poise a dream of future glory? Do both play off of the anger of the electorate in moving them to new grounds? Do both captivate those desperate to be on a winning side on issues? Do both attack any opposition to what is forthcoming and debase them? Do both expect religious leaders to remain silent and stay out of politics even when moral issues are at stake?
Must we expect 2017 trains loaded with millions of "undesirables" and their citizen children to be dumped in camps along the Rio Grande? And will American "Christians" who see such deportations stay silent, fearful of what neighbors or peers or politicians will dare say? Or can we still change the story before it totally unfolds, and make this daily reflection irrelevant? Can we change the course of history and speak out with deliberate forcefulness against the budding new potentate before he sweeps into the Oval Office with his minions and his hangers-on?
The only sainted Jesuit I ever prayed before was at the tomb of Blessed Rupert Mayer next to St. Michael's Church in Munich -- that city of Nazi infamy. It was the seat of Mayer's noble social justice work for the poor until silenced, imprisoned and then sent into exile by the Nazis. I often wondered whether his last years of life could be repeated in our land of freedom. He never held back in presenting the truths of faith against the political pressures of his day. Will we?
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to speak when unchristian policies against refugees and migrants are proposed today.
Transplanting a young common mallow, Malva neglecta.
March 2, 2016 Eco-Balance through Organic Gardening
Today, increasing emphasis is being placed on access to more nutritious foods; much attention is diverted to the term "organic" (chemical pesticide- and commercial chemical fertilizer-free) and non-contamination by hazardous materials or unregulated growing practices. Many shoppers still do not have access to lower-priced organic varieties, even while warning labeling and notices are occurring with greater frequency. Today, more and more fresh produce comes from distant states and lands, and much slips past an overburdened food quality surveillance system. Perfect looking produce can fool you, for we cannot detect harmful pesticides. The understaffed regulatory agencies are hard-pressed to monitor heavily laced residual chemicals on fresh produce. If we focus on locally grown foods fewer problems arise by checking food sources.
Chemical pesticides have been used widely since the Second World War; these can be highly toxic and cause numerous injuries through application, handling and ingestion. Some with chemical sensitivity trace maladies to pesticide-contaminated foods. Likewise, expensive pesticides can harm friendly garden creatures and surroundings. Furthermore, chemicals are dangerous when stored around the house, difficult to dispose of properly, and may persist in contaminating soil. Few gardeners are trained to handle chemical pesticides safely or to decontaminate fruits and vegetables grown with chemical pesticides. Besides acute toxicity, pesticides can create conditions of chemical sensitivity among large numbers (estimated 15%) of the total human population.
Conversely, "organic" (pesticide-free) gardening techniques are less costly, easier to handle, and are environmentally friendly. Organic produce may not look perfect, but food safety is more than the shiny and waxy appearances of chemically-contaminated food supplies. Note that chemists use "organic" to mean carbon containing chemicals that are extracted from living plants, but can now be synthesized in the laboratory. That includes pesticides.
Much attention is given to certification of organic products. Mere shopper observation is not sufficient to make a judgment; perhaps a worm in the roasting corn ear is evidence that no chemicals are present. Many organic materials are imperfect due to lack of the invisible but toxic chemical that contaminates a more perfect looking product. Certification of organic homegrown garden produce has been protected at the state level through annual review of practices, soil testing, and personal inspection by the certifying agency. This allows the public guaranteed product quality, which can be labeled as such. The best protection is to grow organic produce yourself and consume what you grow.
Classic reference:Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA 1992.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to take proper care of our health and to avoid foreign substances to the highest degree possible.
This is the Year of Mercy as proclaimed by Pope Francis. A sweeping sign of mercy comes to all of us in some fashion and that is the mercy of the Creator extending to us, for if we perceive the mighty mercy of God, in turn, we become merciful people.
First, by changing our attitude. Each of us look harshly on the mannerisms and attitudes of even close relatives and neighbors. We ought to try an exercise of putting ourselves in our neighbor's shoes and wonder how we would act differently if we were them. Mercy somehow admits that the other party is imperfect and we accept that, while always hoping that an opportunity arises to observe changes without it becoming a humiliating circumstance.
Second, by extending kindness. We live in a rough world of people barely making it. If and when the impulse arises, show an additional kindness to the poor and overlooked through a visit, a smile, a generous gift when least expected. Why wait for a special festival or occasion? Our spontaneity may become contagious and spread to others.
Third, by forgiving debts. The world would be in better shape if the oppressive debts now burdening so many individuals and nations were relieved. Often, when moved by the Spirit we are asked to reduce or simply do away with the debt. Mercy extends to all who desire to profit by an oppressive economic System and our mercy may change their mind so they act more decently.
Fourth, doing works of mercy. People go through trying times such as deaths of loved ones. For short periods others offer traditional bereavement services, but when this ends the sorrowing feel all the more lonely. This extends to the isolated, the sick, and those who are in prison.
Fifth, give encouragement. We live in a society where the advancement of someone is matched in their mind by the diminishment of a competitor. Such competitive attitudes increases tension on the part of certain individuals who do not thrive on such pressure. Give special attention to those who are bullied; they are often in desperate need of added mercy.
Sixth, forgive others for offenses they have done to you. This may prove to be the hardest exercise in mercy. We must even forgive ISIS offenders, though not for what is currently occurring, but for their false motivations in doing such crimes. How else can this insurgency that is gripping the Middle East be conquered: It is possible through loving and merciful hearts of many suffering in compassion in this world. We cannot allow violence that promotes other violence, for the spiral will just continue.
Prayer: Lord, give us the sense of mercy that will make a better world. Help us show mercy in our own unique manner.
It is difficult to talk about the prospects of coal while living in Appalachian coal country -- and especially at what was once a major transfer point in railroad transport of Eastern Kentucky coal. When I came to Ravenna over a decade ago there were about three trains a day, each with 110 cars and carrying 100 tons of coal per car. Now we get several trains a week. Why?
The answer is coal in America has had its position as primary fuel for generating electricity challenged. In this past decade, coal went from over 40% as the fuel for electricity to a one quarter reduction with continued decline expected. Electricity use has stagnated in America (but not in the developing world); more and more is generated by renewable (hydro, wind, geothermal and solar) and by the plentiful supply of fracked and lower-priced natural gas. Upcoming regulations facing "dirty" coal-fired powerplants has resulted in coal's accelerating unpopularity.
Besides emissions of "dirty" coal and associated regulations, coal has had two other minuses that count up in the long run: disturbance of land in surface-mining areas, especially the practice of mountaintop removal (slicing off the peaks to get to successive layers of coal); and ash disposal (large piles of coal-fired plant residue that eludes final disposal by escape into waterways). Add to these woes are the successful campaigns to divest general investments from coal companies.
Thus it is obvious that woes resulted in twenty-seven coal companies folding since 2011. Before the Alpha Natural Resources bankruptcy last year coal stock fell by 36% and four of the largest American coal companies have gone into bankruptcy in the past two years. However, conditions for the bankrupting industry's personnel are in flux as well. Workers are being laid off (over 7,000 in the last two years in our Eastern Kentucky fields) with no well-paid alternatives for miners and threats of bankruptcy to pension funds for retirees. Small communities are hard hit for loss also of accompanying service jobs. Out-migration continues.
All the while, the CEOs and other coal executives have raked in bundles of money while the funds for mining operations dry up. Hard times are not reflected in compensation for officials who seem to be cleaning out the pot before skipping away. Former Alpha CEO James Roberts is reported to have received $15 million in 2008 and 2009 before retirement. Peabody, the largest coal company, had a CEO pocketing $26 million in stock options in four years before the shares began to collapse. Arch Coal, the second largest had its top five executives receive 94% increases in cash compensation in 2014. In the past five years when prices per share dropped for the ten largest coal companies by three-quarters, the compensation for the top five executives went up to $1,355,000 each. Attention all!
Prayer: Lord, make us realize what is happening in the coal
fields and help us speak out for miners who are being shortchanged.
Solar panel at Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center, Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest.
March 5, 2016 Welcoming the Renewable Energy Economy
Renewables are ready; they just need willingness on the part of energy policy makers to put them into effect. This means overcoming the barriers that perpetrate the fossil fuel economy; that unsustainable system is dumping greenhouse gases at such sufficient rates that climate change could drastically affect the vitality of our planet. Instituting a renewable energy economy is a life and death battle -- and that battle involves social, economic and political revolutionary change. Fossil fuel must go.
Renewables are available. Some countries (e.g., Iceland and Denmark) fulfill a major portion of energy needs by renewable energy sources such as hydro and geothermal, as well as wind and solar. Renewable rates vary considerably by states and nations. Theoretically, the renewable fuel economy could be nearly total in about five years if willingness were actualized.
Renewables are becoming moderately priced. Of course hydro, the first electricity "fuel" source has been cheaper than others, but more American hydro is limited. The price of wind and solar is steadily declining and on par with plentiful fracked natural gas. Rising emission standards make coal lose its competitive edge.
Renewables afford jobs. One drawback in initiating the new economy is that fossil fuel mining, drilling and processing jobs will be lost (like losing blacksmiths for horseshoe-fittings when autos became popular). Unfortunately, coal miner losses are equalled by renewable energy employment gains, but not by the same people; miners need retraining to enter a changing work force.
Renewables are green. The initiation of renewable sources does have some resource costs, but nothing like nuclear power sources; they also do not have an ongoing environmental indebtedness that, if properly included in prices, would make the fossil fuels totally unpopular. Only power of big energy allows the subsidies and exemptions that keep fossil fuels thriving.
Renewable are widely acceptable. Polled public opinion shows that over 80% of ordinary people want a far higher degree of, or total, renewable energy sources in the coming years. No one wants more greenhouse gas emissions stemming from burning coal, petroleum and natural gas. We can ill afford to let energy profiteers win this battle and the growing coal applications in India and developing nations to disrupt the renewable revolution. Renewables are friendly. Many renewable energy applications can be installed in homes or businesses (roof solar panels or domestic geothermal applications). Large grid networks are still needed, but domestic local applications can become energy independent with sufficient and emerging economic battery storage.
Prayer: Lord, inspire our citizens to change their ways and participate in the energy revolution that is demanded today.
He replied I told you once but you wouldn't listen. Why do you want to hear it all over again? Do you want to become his disciples too? (John 9:27)
Brave souls give us great courage when it comes to the risks they take to speak and tell the truth. Such a story is that of today's Gospel account of the "man born blind," whose name was not recorded. Yet we rejoice that such people live and give us a fitting model of courage in times which demand truth. For him, the gratitude of receiving sight triggers his courage to speak under pressures from the power groups around him. In the account in Chapter 9 in St. John's Gospel a variety of characters comprise the world -- the faithless, mediocre, and the courageously faithful.
The Pharisees are the faithless who doubt that this person who is now able to see was really blind in the first place. They are blinded to any compassion and see this man as untouchable in his "sin." Contrary to their view, the condition of blindness, as Jesus teaches, is not due to an individual or his parents' faults. The person is set apart so that God's works may be shown through him. Despite his physical blindness, this unnamed soul receives God's gratuity of sight, which then triggers a heroic response. However, that truth is outside of the world of the Pharisees, the status quo of that age. They blame the blind man or his parents for his blindness -- a heartless approach to this unfortunate condition. In Jesus' account we can all learn to show gratitude for physical sight and double gratitude for spiritual sight.
The parents stand out as human beings under stress. "Ask him for he is of age and can answer for himself" becomes a shift of the burden of witnessing to the victim; it's a failure to stand up courageously against the system when needing to defend your own. The bare minimalists are those who give a partial answer, but shake off further responsibility. Pressure is immense and we could in charity pass over the frightened parents and move on to the actions of the blind man himself. But don't forget that these parents are the great majority who are too afraid to challenge a ruthless System, therein continuing the unjust status quo.
The man born blind becomes lions' bait; courageously he affirms Christ and thus is thrown out of the synagogue; this means expulsion from an approved religious pale in the powerful Roman Empire, for Jewish practices are tolerated by authorities. He, as a new found Christ follower, becomes an outlaw and, if faithful to God, is condemned to death. He helps all see what fidelity really means when ostracized and thrust out of the synagogue. The blind man enlightens by risking his life to follow Jesus and speak up forthrightly to the Pharisees. He even taunts them, asking if they too want to become Jesus' disciples.
Prayer: Lord, we are called to stand for you when temptation seems to overwhelm us. Give us the blind man's courage.
March 7, 2016 Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs and Models
Young terrorist set a different tone in the time this essay was first conceived and now. Nevertheless, youthful Christian martyrs always appealed to us when exuberance and enthusiasm for life is at its peak; much promise occurs in ordinary life; yet such martyrs perceive that their lives are not ordinary, but part of a uniqueness that has value even when short-lived. Some are willing to die for a cause or a person; recall young soldiers sacrificing life in defense of their homeland; remember the attraction of the Romeo and Juliet story. However, on equal and greater par is the life of a young Christian such as Agnes, Tarsisus, Cecilia and those who choose Christ and a shortened life.
Such were the choices of North African martyrs Perpetua and her faithful servant Felicity. Both had to choose in the earliest phases of motherhood between their caregiving flesh and blood responsibilities or to witness of Christ. These two young women died in 203 under the persecution of Septimus Severus. Perpetua, a catechumen and not even yet a full Christian, was a married noblewoman. She had just given birth to a son and with her pregnant servant Felicity was arrested and hauled before the court for refusing to honor the emperor as a god. Her aged father pleaded with her to renounce her beliefs; he said all she had to do was put a grain of incense in the brazer before Caesar's image.
Perpetua became the first Christian woman writer of her exploits given in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas, a short essay quoted frequently by St. Augustine and honored in the early Church. I like to reread the story annually because it is so inspiring; this account is worthy of reflection by younger folks today caught in the snares of materialism -- our current state religion that is strangling our democratic spirit. In their simple straight forward ways, these North African saints are strikingly modern in their struggle and their Christian choices.
Perhaps the spectrum of ISIS has given us a host of those willing to die for what we regard as a very wrong cause. Amazingly, this rather perverse and cruel group has become the cause, as much as Roman imperial types, to the new crop of twenty-first century Christian martyrs. Often, these residents in ISIS conquered territory are willing to give their lives rather than deny their faith. In many cases these are young workers with family responsibilities, just as those of Perpetua and Felicity.
Many of us today do not face the drama of immediate martyrdom. Too often our struggle is to avoid the allurements of the world that lead us away from our faith into a materialistic world, where peers constantly pressure the young (and old) to abandon service for others for lives of comfort, fun and games, and doing what is politically correct in secular ways.
Prayer: Lord, help us turn in intercession to such brave souls as Perpetua and Felicity and see in them models for our own lives.
Early appearance in March of American columbo, Frasera caroliniensis.
March 8, 2016 Developing a Green Thumb for Gardening
Some say "one has to have a green thumb" to make the garden produce. That may include the tender care to prepare, plant, water, till and harvest properly. True! However, some find gardening is not overly easy as originally expected; a magic touch by experienced gardeners seems far removed; the inexperienced discover that it is all thumbs when they need fingers as well. Gardening is not innate to some; God gives all people some degree of use of talent. Thumbs are given by God, but no one I have ever heard was born with green thumbs; this they developed over time, though diligence, energy, support and other assisting attributes.
Traditional methods should be accepted for the greater part because these ways involve the accumulated wisdom of experienced people in a given locality -- and that should not be dismissed. These are the ones who acquire experience through hard work coupled with acquired success or failure. Our lives are too short to reinvent the wheel. Accept advice and acquire a keen awareness of what the best locals do as to timing and types of crops as well as growing suggestions. To some extent adjust diets and menus to local flavors (see 365 ways for local variety in soups, salads, etc.). Know the land and what it can yield; respect climate and choose what plants grow best there. It is more than newer techniques such as "Permacultural" and "Biodynamic" gardening -- but I hope you have some local experts to help green your thumb. We need the local thumb prints on gardening technique, for it takes the steady hand of another who acts as mentor. Avoid advice from distant experts, for greenness is a local color worth cherishing.
Good discipline assists in making the green thumb grow. A variety of garden methods can be ecologically friendly and yet involve different practices. I champion standard European‑American traditional gardening methods handed down within my own family, but still something worth broadening and modifying to some extent. Listen to advice on very early planting, use of hotbeds where possible, manuring and adding crushed rock dust, ground cover and some mulch, patient weed control by hoeing and tilling, harvesting over a period of time, and crop rotation.
Personal willingness to observe the weather patterns helps in the long run. Know the soil and what it does and needs each year; follow moon signs if you like; respect changes of climate that may yield hotter summers; anticipate the water needs during times of drought, and take extra care of young plants that are just getting started. Don't be a gardener who procrastinates as far as planting, tilling and harvesting goes, for delay only results in poor "stands" of crops, an abundance of weeds, and failure to harvest when just right. Yes, you can become a green thumb but it takes effort and the proper exercise of thumbs, hands, muscle and will power. Observe what local good gardeners do.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to become good learners willing to observe what good neighbors do when it comes to gardening.
Lichen as perfect example of biological symbiosis.
March 9, 2016Becoming One with Our Land
We are all strangers and guests as Scripture says. Our personal histories tell us we are all migrants at some stage in the near or distant past. Our ancestors came to this land that we now call home. Some of us move again due to job opportunities, family needs or other reasons and find an adopted place as a new home. As movers we strive all the harder to relocate the homestead and adjust to new neighbors and friends. We take the extra effort to look about and adjust to a new locality in order to have a better quality of life and live at peace with neighbors. Integrity is at the heart of our striving, and our specific new home shares a landscape with others who desire to feel welcome and at ease.
In order to achieve oneness we must be in touch with the soil in which we reside. This may be a pot or plot or field or farm. It is all part of making the place "mine" -- and that does not mean exclusive possession. We soon come to the harsh reality that our land tenure is quite short-lived whether we have a legal title or not. John Locke would say we are moving to become a possessor of what we till. However, that somewhat limited basis of land title is not what we ought to mean by "our" possession. Landholding may apply to small and large land holders, but there is only so much to go around; thus, success is to share the land that gives us our identity to place with others striving to do the same.
Our limited endeavors have a ramifying potential, the ability to motivate our neighbors to do meaningful actions. We become something new and assist others to do the same. We cannot afford to stand idly in a state of static being; rather we feel vibrations and a resonance of our Earth shaking us to move forward together with others to a new horizon, a New Heaven and New Earth. We need to be rooted so that the entire planet is healthy and vigorous.
Gardening through tillage allows us to value our land. Yes, our land is able to produce our food. We become our land when we eat and assimilate the produce grown on it. We learn to share land as commons and that extends to most of the surface of Earth: oceans (two-thirds of the planet surface), mountains, Arctic and Antarctic regions, deserts, rivers, lakes, heritage sites, governmental areas, seashores, and on and on. Earth contains major commons.
Our commons contains particular places where people hold specific title -- and here friction can easily arise. We do not wish to "become" some distant place like consumers who buy food from distant places. Our food, especially from gardening, localizes us into becoming local. We become our land when our land becomes us. Removing forms of landlessness is one way to expand the number of residents who feel a sense of belonging, a willingness to call our place home. Yes, redistribute land.
Prayer: Lord, lead us on the way to unity with people and Earth so that we might become one through our connection with you.
Broaden our sense of home to include an eternal one.
Early morning view across Kentucky waterway.
March 10, 2016 Recapping What Is Wrong with Fracking
I live in an area where leases are being purchased from funds-strapped residents who cannot think beyond an immediate bargain. They hardly know what it means to have their land and neighborhood "fracked" by oil and gas drillers; these want to pump fluids into shale layers beneath the land surface to force out shale impregnated oil and gas. Though it sounds simple, still there's much involved. Actually, these areas include my resident Estill County, Kentucky. Fracking has not yet started here but the potential is strong should the price of fossil fuels rise again. The neighborhood will experience fracking: trucks carrying drill equipment and materials; settlement ponds for spent liquid materials, congestion and noise on small roads and localities; earthquake possibilities; and perhaps contaminated drinking water.
Actually, my own concerns go far deeper. With every new well a more plentiful supply of natural gas becomes available in America. Yes, we could have cheaper fuel and greater energy independence -- and this has been highly touted. However, that is not the total story. We are also fixating ourselves on our status quo fossil fuel culture and not relinquishing it to a renewable energy one; this simply must be initiated for lower greenhouse production and a more sustainable renewable fuel economy. Recent reports show that solar energy is now able to be marketed at the same price ($5/kWh) as is natural gas for electricity generation.
This movement to a renewable energy economy is a moral issue and we must spend the limited global development funds to halt and reverse the climate change scenario; that awful scenario includes the hottest year on record, the further reduction of Arctic ice cover, the continued decline of glaciers, and further warming of ocean temperatures. Warmer air holds more moisture and that has yielded an increase in extreme weather events (170 in America between 1980 and 2014). Dry conditions add forest fires that add carbon dioxide along with soot that darkens snow areas, and thus hastens heat absorption and increased melting of ice caps.
If releases of carbon dioxide and methane continue at current rates we could reach a disastrous 4.50C by 2100; island nations will be submerged and populated coastal urban areas inundated. Even if Paris Conference greenhouse commitments by various nations are totally honored, temperature rises will be a numbing 3.50C by 2100. All the while the plentiful fracked natural gas that is mainly methane (25 times more powerful as a greenhouse warming gas) would add to the energy mix that ought to be mostly renewable. Since undetermined amounts of methane escape in the atmosphere, escaped gas in drilling, processing and transporting to end use, makes natural gas a dirty fuel, NOT cleaner than coal (see March 4th).
Prayer: Lord, help us to be responsible change agents to move the world to a renewable energy economy and to do so as soon as possible.
March 11, 2016 Apple: The Perfect Candidate for Food Variation
On Johnny Appleseed Day (see Daily Reflections for March 11, 2010) it is a perfect time to report on the last year's variety food, that is 365 different ways to partake of Apples. Previously I had done 365 Salads, 365 soups, 365 oatmeal dishes and 730 peanuts (I stopped vinegar uses in the first months). Two-thirds of the way in the 2015 food game I decided that I could not call eating chopped apples and apple sauce two, but one application, and thus having exceeded the total figure of 365 by early October I actually was behind by at least 50 varieties at that time. Thus more applications were urgently sought in the autumn and so many found that I am continuing apples through 2016. I limit apple varieties and products to those from local gardens, woodlands or stores (or my brother's organic apple orchard).
In many ways, apples (whether chopped or sauce) take far less time to introduce, and yet give many-flavored additions to salads and deserts that are really quite routine and bland otherwise; apples add texture and flavor in so many cases. I have been struck by the addition of apple sauce to raw Paw Paws and the addition of apples to violet leaves as a green salad. Some who find food changes as challenging would wonder why add a vegetable or greens like poke along with apples to rice as an evening meal, or to pancakes at breakfast. However, we need not buy exotic foods to change our menus for we have many ingredients very close at hand begging for new combinations as unexpected gourmet delights.
I realize that many of you do not vary menus, but like the same "meat and potatoes" on an everyday regime. That is your choice, but I think a greater majority would like to become daring in what they fix for meals each day. We often get tired of the same old stuff. Many of us are not wealthy enough to turn to higher priced specialty food outlets that offer distantly obtained foods at high prices and energy transport expenditures; that's not a resource conservative way of thinking. Those of us in a lower income bracket in food choices can find a great variety of differences that can enhance menus while thinking locally and eating economy meals. Certainly exotic fruit and veggies appear occasionally in local food markets, but we don't count on them.
One may note that many of the listed food varieties given last year (see Daily Reflections January 20, 2015) took some time to gather ingredients, even when locally obtained, and then prepared by special cooking or baking (which was not my basic inclination). I like culinary economy of time though I know that the art of good cooking means quality time in preparation. Another weakness of the variation method is that I do not offer the daily apple variations to a discerning panel of experts. Perhaps some of my offerings would not pass their discerning taste test. So what? However, some combinations might prove delightful if those who hesitate to take the time to try them.
Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to try new things.
Kentucky state capitol's "floral clock". Frankfort, KY.
March 12, 2016Why Must We Change that Clock Tomorrow?
Nothing I enjoy less is to remember each March and November that we must advance or set back the clocks one hour. What an unnecessary pain! Perhaps readers from other countries find this reflection somewhat comic. Vast lands like India and China have single time zones and the majority of the world's people never change clocks at times of the year, but most (not all) Americans do. Arizona keeps the same time throughout the year, as does portions of Indiana. Why changes to daylight "saving" time? Really nothing is saved and this was a holdover from twentieth century war periods when evening with longer light could, by springing ahead an hour, allow more evening time for GARDENING.
It is enough to live right at time zones with their own one hour differences. My Uncle Ed lived on our borderline of Eastern and Central time zones and would celebrate our home Eastern time zone New Year's and then drive twenty miles to his own residence and celebrate the Central Time New Year's an hour later. He regarded it as a chance to be doubly social -- and so it was. On top of mandatory zone bordering is this added burden of spring and fall advancing and setting back clocks with the possibilities of incorrect scheduling and biological clock disturbances for periods of time. In traveling to neighboring Indiana, we are reminded that every county of the 92 can set their own Eastern or Central time.
I know we cannot do a single zone as half of Europe or the nation of India, because the United States covers so many standard zone widths of the global twenty four, running from the Easternmost tip of Maine to the last of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. However, some type of uniformity would be less worrisome. And to this must be added the lack of changing of many of these clocks springing ahead in early March and falling behind in early November. The "regular time" of the designated zones is really used now only four months of the year (from November to early March) and "savings time" for the flexible zones the other eight months. This change is rationalized by saying morning should have more daylight in preparation for the school day (actually most kids are accompanied by hovering parents). Can't the schools be adjusted faster than putting the entire community under the onus of setting clocks back or forward?
No matter what uniform time is settled upon, let's not keep setting clocks up or back. We ought to be more rational than that. The sunrise is earlier right now in February and this becomes a welcome aspect of the coming spring. Each day we have a minute or two of lengthened sunlight and this means that the growing season has begun and will continue until the start of summer. Whatever the clock says, we anticipate spring's strengthening sunlight. Rhythm comes with changing seasons and human biological habits. Why mess around with clocks?
Prayer: Lord, you are the real giver of time, not our clocks.
Help us adjust to the natural rhythms of life.
I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:26)
The challenge before us is to see where Jesus becomes our life, and we are invited to respond in our entire being. Such is today's Gospel passage. For one brief moment we have a Scriptural passage in St. John's Gospel where we think Jesus is not an activist; he delays upon hearing that his close friend Lazarus is dying. His disciples find the delay inconceivable, for it is out of character for Jesus not to come to friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at this hour of great need. But Jesus reassures his disciples that in the end the glory of God will be revealed.
So after Lazarus' death, Jesus and the disciples finally arrive. Martha goes out and says if Jesus had been there her brother would not have died. Jesus replies that Lazarus will rise again, and Martha acknowledges that this would occur on the last day. Jesus means a resurrection now and says he is the "resurrection," the conqueror of death itself. Martha acknowledges that he is the Son of God. Before this most resplendent of miracles an emotional scene occurs. Mary's arrival comes with the same comment that if Jesus had come her brother would not have died. Then we discover Scripture's shortest verse: "Jesus wept."
However, this becomes a glorious moment nonetheless. Here Jesus shows he is the master of death and life. He who has the command of the waves and storms also has command of all of life itself. Authority is far deeper than being living water (Woman at the Well) two Sundays ago or light of the world (Blind Man) last Sunday; water and light give way to life itself. This third faith episode involves a miracle of raising Lazarus and a point of crisis as revealed in John's Gospel, growing opposition to cut short Jesus' ministry from the establishment. Jesus is approaching his final and formal entry into Jerusalem.
Our entire being is preparing for the closing of Lent and yet we anticipate the Easter event here at this moment. In our own lives we are all too often people who await Easter and yet need the graces of renewed life here and now. We have sicknesses and misunderstandings and deaths of loved ones and we need to be assured of life ahead. Jesus not only weeps for Lazarus but is involved in the struggles of each of us. He is our life and so we do not bend over and become helpless in the barriers that come in our journey of faith; rather we find Jesus is beside us giving us the energy it takes to overcome the stumblings and frustrations that we are enduring. We may even show irritation that we do not see his presence at this time of trouble, and yet in mercy he reminds us that life is offered and renewal is always possible.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see your resurrection promise as always present to give us courage and strength during hard times.
March 14, 2016Involve Youth in Environmental Activities
At the time this reflection was first conceived I was preparing to talk via Skype to 125 upper class Houston high schoolers on environmental stewardship. The method of communication shows a manner of reducing the carbon footprint by avoiding transportation cost. Environmental stewardship (and ultimately everyone who can do something meaningful) is expected for everY citizen on the planet and to every Christian as well. This extends beyond adults to include youth from K through elementary and secondary schools to colleges as well. All youth should participate to the best degree possible.
Be aware of the crisis. It is not easy to live in troubled times but it is unrealistic for youth to be immune from what is going on and to be realistic in facing the future. Learn about the environment in class, through news outlets, and through conversations with elders and media associates. The full force of climate change will come when grandkids ask what you did in 2016.
What can be done. Cut back on your own carbon footprint by practicing energy and water conservation at home and school. Much depends on turning off lights when not needed, with taking limited showers, curbing use of electronic devices, using higher temperatures in summer and lower ones in winter (saving cooling and heating costs) and to walking or using bikes for many errands and even recreational trips. Be willing to do things nearer home.
Confront others to do the same. A powerful youth activity is to change the patterns at home and elsewhere by challenging those who waste. Adults may not want to hear the inconvenient truth of the wastefulness that they have patterned into their own lives. It is amazing how some children in kindly ways can beg their parents and grandparents to change practices -- and how many of them will definitely change. Youth in a persuasive manner can lead to greener domestic and family lifestyle practices in major ways.
Consider petitioning. Start to become involved citizens at an early age. The practice of Internet petitioning has only become important in recent years. One policy was definitely changed when legislators discovered the numbers of people in their own state and districts aroused by a certain issue. Many petitions do not require age limits. Get your parents to assist and help with affixing your signature. Consider petitions to help poor folks.
Clean up the neighborhood. A more activist undertaking involves doing service for others, either on a particular basis or to do service in cleaning up streets, yards, roadsides and lake and river shores. The trashing is unfortunately the lack of oversight on the part of policing other important issues and thoughtlessness of consumers. Avoid a throwaway culture by recycling and reusing.
Prayer: Lord, help us give encouragement to youth who will have to struggle with environmental issues later in life.
March 15, 2016 Involve Elders in Environmental Activities
In order to save our wounded Earth all citizens of our planet need to be involved in a variety of ways. By middle years citizens are expected to be politically and socially active. Yesterday we considered the role of youth in today's crisis ridden world; now we add that elders are not exempt while still in good mental health -- and voting patterns place seniors as the more participative group of citizens. However, we concede in America that this group still has the highest level of climate change deniers; they still listen to merchants of doubt even after the smoking disasters, and excuse themselves as not being alive to see rising seas and climate changing extreme events.
Environmental activities include --
* Continue recycling efforts of a major sort at the domestic level and continue awareness of what is purchased as well as energy and water conservation measures;
* Vote for good ecologically-conscious candidates for office at all levels of government. If mobile-impaired, make sure you can vote by absentee ballot and that associates who are in a similar condition do the same;
* If Internet savvy, consider petitioning on issues of environmental importance and realize that such actions have current legislative value. It takes little time to read and do the voting;
* Keep up with the news so that this awareness of political and economic matters will not drift due to aging. If reading becomes more difficult, take up the practice of listening to the radio or watching news and commentary programs on television;
* When still active, call or mail legislators to show that you are monitoring their actions. If still able to attend rallies or conferences, ask others to help with travel and lodging;
* When needing wheelchair assistance, still be willing to take part in conferences, rallies and marches. The presence of elders is always a major mark of support that is deeply appreciated. If civil disobedience is demanded, elders furnish immense testimony;
* Show moral support to offspring and others of all ages when they perform civic duties in favor of the environment. This is done either face-to-face or by contact through phone, Internet, teleconferencing, postal mail or personal visit; and not least --
* Pray and offer sufferings for the efforts of others on the front lines of environmental battles. The generous offering of our prayers and time cannot go unrewarded, and manifest the good will and blessing that is needed to save our wounded Earth.
Prayer: Lord, give encouragement to those who are the elders and still retain the enthusiasm to help heal our wounded Earth.
I hear the sound of jackboots stumping, trumping, clumping;
Are they coming from a distant past of crooked crosses and hands raised to give pledges expected to last, with hearty yells and stiff salutes?
Shades of history past, now a nightmare? Only a memory tingling, jingling, mingling into a congestion of supposed things, that truly rings with nonsense:
Millions! Concrete barriers and railcars, panicked moms with crying kids to bear.
Could it happen now when the angry swear? No blessings, guessing, caressings, only chanting gatherings in mindless ways, crazy thinking a party failed somehow: feather-floating policies and plans, empty promises, grand but threadbare.
Wake me up! Stir me to rise and see, Nightmare odes aren't my normal fare.
It's true and now the day is sunlit, What can we do to halt the mad dash of lemmings rushing to the sea of spoiled out-tided democracy?
Al Fritsch, SJ
Osage-orange, Maclura pomifera, waiting to break bud.
March 16, 2016 Use Skype at Critical Times
A new means to spread the Good News has just entered into my own tool kit, Skype. This is a manner of connecting computers in a versatile and low cost communications network. This is an addition to the various means of expanded social media that has proved so vital in our globalizing family. Skype allows the connected parties to see each other as well as to interchange their messages through rather normal communication. It is not face-to- face, but the next best thing. When video capabilities work in both direction then it enhances the social interactions considerably. Facial expressions and human reactions that are so vital for communication are not lost, and this can be approximately as good as being present in the room. Second best is okay.
We can find advantages to Skype when direct visits are too costly or impossible due to immobility on the part of one party.
But there is something more when environmental issues are considered. I have always had great misgiving when environmentalists travel long distances, consuming travel time but most importantly fuel, to get from one place to another. Consider a thousand mile trip going and coming to attend a conference or give a talk; now if the two thousand miles were by train (and the days of travel time) the energy cost would not be excessive. But if by private car or by public airlines the fuel costs rise rapidly. One such trip by air consumes more energy than an average family on the planet uses for fossil fuel in one year. Air travel may be public, but it is also resource intensive. Certainly all environmentalists must think twice about such travel.
This became evident to me a few months back when giving a visual SKYPE teleconference to students from two schools in Houston, Texas. Questions were presented and I was able to respond at length; my viewing of the other side showed a large classroom respectfully attentive. The event certainly beat the travel time it would have taken for a personal visit and, more importantly, the energy costs were minimal for all parties. Likewise, it opened the possibilities for those of us less able to travel great distances that we still have the enhanced possibilities to communication with large numbers at a distance -- in a second best personal manner; but such is good enough in a conservation-conscious age.
Possibilities for further expansion of SKYPE use has occurred in recent years when friends in different parts of the world can do more than email or make expensive phone calls. Here is a type of constant familiarity that is especially helpful when one party is unable to travel, and the other finds frequent trips prohibitive. This also opens the possibility to expand to three or multiple parties through teleconferencing. Though some cost may occur, it pales beside multiple travel and lodging costs involved in going to conferences at distances from many parties.
Prayer: Lord, allow our communication to expand so that our oneness might be solidified through enhanced social contact.
Even in Lent we are allowed moments of joyful celebration on choice occasions. Such is what can be said by anyone of Irish decent or who has some affiliation to multi-cultural St. Patrick. I was baptized, confirmed, made my first confession and communion in St. Patrick's Church in Maysville, KY, along with twelve years of elementary and high school in a school by the same name. And my family sat on the St. Patrick Irish side of the Church as misplaced French -- not wanting to sit on the St. Boniface German side. C'est la Vie! St. Patrick was our saint by adoption and I cherish this as a matter of legitimate celebration.
Joinalong. Pope Francis has had a theme throughout his papacy that we are to express joy and happiness, for we have the Lord with us. We recall that "feast day" celebrations throughout church history have been times set aside for servants, serfs, peons, or slaves to rest and relax. That is a Christian duty harking back to the solemn Sabbath rest of Old Testament times. Yes rest, but do this with song, dance and festive celebration -- and the Irish know this and relax in the midst of Lent by a special exception to rules. Christians are free enough to take Jesus, who enjoyed celebration, at his word.
March along. St. Patrick's Day parades, so prominent in America, tell us something about going public with our celebrations; this invites others to share our good spirit together in a crowd that needs to enhance each other. Really, this is a prelude to the heavenly practices through an eternity when we praise God in joyful celebration. Thus, on Earth we practice a sharing with others of what the grand gathering will be in the after life. Tolerance leads to enjoyment. Even if we are not Irish we still have a connection with each other and learn to be one while still celebrating our distinctive character.
Dance along. Much depends on your physical condition, but if you can at least do a simple jig, this day is perfect for that effort. At least let us sway and beat time with the rhythm. All enter the celebratory vibration, a resonance with the created world filled with green vitality. St. Patrick smiles all the while.
Sing along. A word on sentimental songs that hark back to former times of cheer, home life and good will. The warmth of happy memories give a special flavor to the celebration, and so in knowing the words of the songs helps, as well as harmonizing with those who can sing in a more commanding and elegant fashion. We need both the talented leaders and the willing joiners to add to the luster of the occasion.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to enjoy good times as most likely St. Patrick enjoyed, for his feast is so connected with song, dance and parade. Lord, give us the chance to enjoy each other and allow this to be of greater service with a laugh and smile -- for this
troubled world needs a light-hearted spirit.
Good mental health requires simultaneously cultivating good physical health. We need to see ourselves as wholesome individuals within a healthy community. Thus, we take care of ourselves and spend much time also looking after the welfare of our neighbors. Integrity in civic activity includes the dual component of concern about proper physical health within a healthy community.
How does gardening fit into this physical integrity? The sunlight is lengthening and the snow melting. Winter is exiting from the scene and a host of early spring activities emerge from pruning orchards and grapes to cultivating the areas in order to plant brassicas and onions. These outdoor activities allow the physical health ingredient of fresh air and full spectrum sunlight. We are awaking from winter with outdoor activities clearly in mind. For many of us, we must think of arising and going beyond the comfort of a fire place to the raw outdoors. Nature invites us!
Just knowing that spring is coming the day after tomorrow brings hope that a plant-growing season has begun in earnest. The Spirit is arousing us to a quickening of life. Now we can renew our communion with the soil and express our hopes for a generous harvest. We now reaffirm our willingness to participate in making the successful venture come about, and this is a mentally healthy way of preparing for the future.
Youthful squealing and joy punctuate the late winter air and startle us to lift our heads. Returning birds and their chatter help in our awaking of the physical/mental harmony called for in the gardening year; silence is generously relinquished so others can celebrate the seasonal change. We listen with greater intensity and tolerance to nature's music all around us, of which birds are a choral group that holds prominence, youth give percussion cadence, and much of the rest of nature furnish a variety of musical instruments, depending on their talents and inspiration. Even the rising sap of the maple is like delicate stringed instruments that can blend in for those who are acutely aware that all nature awakens in springtime, a communal activity.
In a liturgical solemnity of Holy Week that will occur next week, the Earth herself seems prepared for the emotional movements of the sacred season. This calls for our whole use of a sound mental and physical state of being. "We" means a believing community entering into the week united in prayer and spirit -- and possessing a certain shared mental and physical condition. We share with each other in prayerful remembrance; we go to our respective gardens as choice places to refresh ourselves for the rather trying exercise of remembrance of the Lord's passion during Holy week. Our gardens give us a harmonious setting for and source of spiritual energy needed for this week.
Prayer: Lord, help us share with others in community the renewed energy needed for Holy Week participation.
Mid March Kentucky blooms of spring beauty, Claytonia virginica.
March 19, 2016 St. Joseph: Patron of Many
On this Feast of St. Joseph it is quite fitting to discover the emerging prominence of humble St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, bearer of a simple lily as depicted in artistic expressions. In fact, Joseph did not receive much attention in the early Church but only in the last few centuries, and was then inserted into the canon of the Liturgy within the last decade. He was only listed in the Roman (worldwide) calendar in 1479.
The second-century Protoevangelium of James (a non-canonical book) attempted to fill in the hidden gaps of Joseph's life due to written absence after the finding in the Temple (Luke 2:42ff); this account describes Joseph as an aged widower with children when he married Mary, and these children were regarded as adopted "brothers and sisters" of Jesus. Some regard these as cousins (a word interchangeable with "brothers"). Thus the Apostle St. James the lesser would have been regarded as a adopted "brother of Jesus.
Included as some of Joseph's titles that have accumulated over the history of the Church:
* Patron of the Universal Church -- This declaration was made at the close of the First Vatican Council in 1870. * Patron of workers -- (celebrated on May 1 since 1955) An effort was made to contrast Joseph's holy life of work with that of the Communist era. In Scripture on several occasions he was cited as being a carpenter by trade.
* Patron of a happy death -- Joseph had Mary and Jesus at his side when he took the final journey to the afterlife.
* Patron of Refugees -- Joseph led the flight into Egypt and had to provide a shelter for Mary and Jesus during exile. * Patron of fathers of families -- Joseph was the foster father of Jesus.
* Patron of travelers -- The journey to Bethlehem with Mary just before the Christmas event, as well as that of taking his little family into Egypt, gave this designation its meaning.
* Patron of social justice workers -- Joseph is called a just person for he had an immense decision to make on retaining his relationship with Mary at the time of her pregnancy.
* Patron of nations -- Austria, Belgium, Bohemia, Canada, China, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Russia and Vietnam (over a quarter of the world's people) regard Joseph as their patron.
* Patron of house seekers -- This title could be challenged in part when those attempting to buy or sell homes will bury statues of St. Joseph upside down (a form of superstition).
* Patron of carpenters -- This for reasons given above.
* Patronof many -- Countless people, churches, shrines (Canada), schools, hospitals, religious communities, rivers (Indiana) towns (Missouri), and cities (San Jose) as well as events (return of swallows in California).
Prayer: Lord, direct us to ask through the intercession of St. Joseph guidance on our journey of life.
March 20, 2016 Palm Sunday Starts the Passion Drama
Hosanna! Blessings on the King of Israel (John 12:13; also see Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; and Luke 19:28-40). The dramatic action of Jesus during this Holy Week is something in which we are invited to participate in a very special way. Jesus formally arrives at the city of destiny and is the focal point of what is to soon follow. In the Mark Gospel of this year we find that what was started in the hill country of humble Galilee now is reaching the seat of power, Jerusalem itself.
Three groups are present. Jesus is accompanied by his confirmed followers, the disciples; he is cheered now by those who have heard of the raising of Lazarus and other wonders and are thus quite curious, but can bend with the wind; last of all are those lurking in the shadows who seek to trip him up and charge him with some sort of crime so as to end his ministry. The unsure disciples, the silent ones in the shadows and the fickle crowd shouting "hosanna." The combination sets the stage for high drama. The focus is on Jesus driven to come to this moment of ministerial fulfillment, riding on an ass as prophesied of old. Near him comes disciples who have profoundly mixed emotions; the dark shadows of Pharisees with growing convictions of negative ruin; and a crowd who would like to make Jesus the political messianic leader willing to overthrow hated Roman oppressors.
Jesus comes with a reputation for the miracles worked in the various places near and far; his actions call for increase in faith, but that is misunderstood by those who are superficial and fickle. Is it not the same crowd who five days hence will change from "hosanna" to "crucify him." To shout praise one day and condemnation another reminds us of a fickle world that acts the same today. In one moment some form of glory is shown; in another the anger aroused by leaders holds sway. Jesus knows human beings and thus moves along in a solemn fashion, for we need to follow a humble leader. When palms are waved on Palm Sunday, all of us need to honestly ask ourselves "whose side are we on?" This is a day of celebration that anticipates the heart-felt sorrow of upcoming Calvary. Palm Sunday is a matter of misplaced adulation, a beginning of joy followed by sorrow and then deeper joy.
Palm Sunday ushers in high drama in our liturgical life. We are praising God, who is calling us to publicly display our faith. But at the same time we are aware that we can have that streak of fickleness every time we show our imperfections. It is a moment when we stop and hide and then come forth to resume life's journey, including hardship and suffering. This is not creating a fiction, but the raw reality of our lives. We face real events that we can only partly at best control; we are thus at the mercy of the free will and good wishes of others -- or the confrontation of hostile forces lurking in shadows. Holy Week brings us closer to Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, prepare us for this week and to shout praise
from the heart, even while knowing that rough times are ahead.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring -- When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Gerard Manley Hopkins
For many of us the air feels different and we know that the outdoors is awakening to the joy of springtime -- and it adds to the joy of life. Let's make the best of it.
Sing out. We have lived to another spring and that means we enjoy what the Lord has given us. Life is always a prevailing blessing in which we participate. Why not sing out?
Bless the animals. The pets and wildlife generally like the change of seasons as much as we do. All life vibrates with the advent of the growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. This blessing extends out from ourselves and makes the world a better place for everyone. Joy is contagious.
Read or try some poetry. Yes, Gerard Manley Hopkin's "Spring" is a fine selection. Much depends on your special taste and talent. Maybe you prefer to be inspired to write poetry?
Remind others. So often our friends and neighbors are caught up in their personal concerns and hardly watch the calendar for changes to occur. You must remind them to be a little more cheerful and to put an extra spring in their step.
Clean up a messy place. It only takes a few minutes to find something that needs rearrangement for the better. Certainly this is the day to start spring cleanup and to do so in your room or living space. This resolution gives us a sense of change for the better and accomplishment. Now let's do it.
Extend cheer. Today may be a good day to phone, email, write or visit someone who has been forgotten since the holidays. We all need the notice that makes life a happier place for everyone.
Spend time in the garden. In this year of the garden, today is the best day to do something extra if time permits. Perhaps it's just to turn the compost pile or prune an apple tree.
Relax for an extra spell. We need to extend our period of relaxation through special events and times of change. The spring solstice is perfect to add a little time to the nightly rest period. Check and make sure you get the proper amount of sleep.
Add a special prayer. The gift of spring is worthy of a moment of thanksgiving, for this brings on the hopes to come at Easter and beyond. Spring means new life for a troubled world.
Prayer: Lord, help us enjoy the season's change, for it marks another signpost in our life's journey.
March 23, 2016 Betrayal: When Activity Yields of Passivity
Naked I came from my mother's womb, naked I shall return. YHWH gave, YHWH has taken back. Blessed be the name of YHWH. (Job 1:21)
We are in the hands of God at all time. What about when the goodness of the past gives way to someone betraying the trust of another and taking advantage of that person. This is what happens on Spy Wednesday to Jesus. That awful work by Judas stamps the horror of the Holy Week, and yet Jesus bears it along with all the burdens of this world. Passivity takes center stage.
Our willing embrace of troubles is a mark of closeness to Jesus in his sufferings. He accepts us for who we are and what we have done. Far from perfect, we now turn to the betrayal of another and find a despicable deed before us. We are naked in what we do, for nothing is hidden from God. The activity of Jesus is to accept us in our utter free choice, and that is often what becomes an added burden for him. His activity is to accept; his passivity comes in the acceptance. In this week we balance the two, for it is what Jesus calls us to do as well: be active and also passive.
We are called to have our own activities yield to the helplessness before our Creator. For many passive people, a bedroom of breathing space collapses into a sick room, a bed, ourself, and to our final heartbeats. Activity fades, but not without that last breath that in God's grace can be peacefully given in utter gratitude. Like Jesus, who gives all and yet is betrayed, we accept God's ways in the final culmination of life. Our endings become moments of glory when we see ourselves for who we are, and sense the greatness of God who owns our time.
During an active life we have been empowered by God, giver of all power. In the moments of trouble we are aware of our own powerlessness. For the most part, we are not being called to be dramatic martyrs, only solitary witnesses at a Calvary extended in space and time. But in less noticeable ways our final journey span can be offered up with Jesus, and thus become openings for us, God-given power swelling from the graces of our ancestors, neighbors, and friends -- and of ourselves as well.
We open ourselves to the cosmic sufferings of Jesus. In his generosity he accepts us as companions and invites us to share his yoke. That invitation leads us to Calvary's mount, even though it occurred in time two millennia ago. Openness can turn a "there" into an emphatic HERE. We beg forgiveness for past betrayals; we trust that when chips are down we are thrust into a transforming passivity. Calvary is active and passive -- and here we stand.
Prayer: Lord, bring us gently to the time when our mortal activity yields to profound passivity, and this soon transformed to eternal Easter-imprinted glorious activity.
Clusters of rue anemone, Anemonella thalictroides.
March 24, 2016 Last Supper Lasting as a Perpetual Institution
If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each others' feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. (John 13: 14-15)
The Last Supper is of special importance for Jesus and the future extended ministry of his disciples. This is essentially a celebration of the Jewish Passover with a new covenant flavor. The Jewish feast involves the passing over of the first-born of Israel and the passing over to freedom of the people when they went from slavery to freedom from Egypt. Blood, symbol of life, is also the sign of passing over and giving life when placed on the door posts of the selected ones who would be unharmed. At this meal, a place setting for the feast remains unoccupied, for the special guest who is to return. The retelling of the story through questioning the youngest indicates, through domestic ritual, that tradition is a family affair.
This last Passover celebration with his disciples is a special one for Jesus, for his Last Supper is the Passover memorial, a ritual meal, washing of feet to show the need for service, ordaining the participants to carry on this Eucharistic tradition, and the final priestly prayer. The Eucharistic Meal goes beyond the Jewish Seder and includes memorial readings and the consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord. The Eucharist (Mass or Sacred Liturgy) is to be repeated faithfully until the Lord returns. The memorial aspect brings all who participate into the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ himself. The liturgical meal includes unleavened bread, a cup containing wine, hymns, and communion taken together.
The great service lesson at the Last Supper is the symbolic washing of feet by Jesus. Peter objects, but Jesus insists; otherwise Peter is to have no part in the continued service to fellow human beings. Christ ordains the disciples present to be of service to others and carry on (in formal expression) throughout the ages. The apostolic succession of this tradition, beginning at the Last Supper, continues to our day; the empowerment is to carry on a perpetual institution, a lasting covenant and promise.
Love must permeate this service, for here Jesus gives a New Commandment, to love as he loves us. This expands the frontiers of service beyond charity; here the suffering done in the redeeming act by Jesus is to be perpetuated both as an act that extends in space and time, and to be specified in efforts all Christians perform to show simultaneous love of God and fellow human beings. The ultimate goal is a oneness of all people akin to what is present in the Godhead. In one way, our own growth in this love will be tested by the continual celebration of the presence and absence of the Lord as we await his physical return in glory.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace faithfully to carry on this
solemn tradition in company with all who suffer in this world.
Short-lived flower of the twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla.
March 25, 2016 Participating in the Calvary Event
On this saddest of days we ask, "Were you there when they crucified the Lord?" "Yes," we can truthfully reply -- "and it pains us deeply." A non-believer looks for a historic event of two millennia past and finds no written records of the event itself. However, Jesus' Calvary event extends in space and time and allows us to be present. When in a severe auto crash the first impulse is to deny it is happening; next, we are tempted to excuse ourselves as not the best responders; finally we just might be tempted to simply escape. Still Calvary is present to us in many ways in the suffering and troubles all around us. Will we try to respond?
Wounds of the hands: producing nuclear bombs, which could devastate our globe; consuming over a trillion dollars a year in military weaponry, which could easily furnish the basic health, educational, housing and dietary needs of the world's poorest people; discharging these weapons in clashes and military confrontation throughout the world; scattering pesticides that harm wildlife and people; and doing violence to one's self or others.
Wounds of the feet: terrorists attacking innocent people in many lands; sponsoring tourism that heavily impacts habitat and damages fragile ecosystems; walking away from responsibilities such as breadwinning for families and nursing disabled individuals; congregating with peers who lead one to waste time; traveling about that carries pathogens from one infested region of the world to another; and processing and transporting contaminated foods.
Wounds of the heart: failing to love others and showing compassion for them; overlooking inequality on the part of the privileged; failing to protect threatened and endangered plants and animals; and allowing heartless treatment of senior citizens, the hospitalized, and prisoners of war.
Wounds of the body: stripping land of resources; permitting destructive methods of agriculture that cause erosion and soil depletion; polluting air and water; tolerating substance abuse practices that harm the body as well as mind; failing to address AIDS and other pandemic threats that go untreated; denying health access to the world's poor; working people in poor conditions and wage scales; and robbing them of hard-earned income.
Wounds of the head -- Tolerating mental illness and mental grudges and grievances; permitting propaganda that leads to dangerous emotional responses; mismanaging resources and time; provoking racism and discrimination; promoting commercial allurements that harm body and soul; extending prejudice and insensitivity that overlooks destitute people; festering anger and
hatred of others; and extending guilt of unforgiven wrongdoing.
Prayer: Lord, teach us in serving you to be present where and when you are present in the suffering of this world. Give us the grace to be at the foot of the cross beside Mary and John.
Delicate row of flowers of the Dutchmans breeches, Dicentra cucullaria.
March 26, 2016 Death and Burial: A Final Accomplishment
'It is accomplished'; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
At that moment of death Jesus gives up his spirit, a final act of his total surrender. At this moment of death for all, Jesus shows the power of being taken up in an atmosphere of sheer powerlessness; as God/man he is in control of the situation. He let's go of mortal life so that greater life can be attained in and through the upcoming resurrection. He humbly bows his head, a gesture to the divine giver of all life taking part in human life to its full. A relatively short ministry by an itinerant preacher and miracleworker draws to a close, with his disciples in utter dismay and others with hopes dashed of political deliverance from the hated Roman rule.
Openness to new life ushers in a magnificent transformation that is soon to occur. Something greater will happen but now, utter liturgical silence. For centuries, the Old Testament holy people had awaited a Messiah to open the gates of heaven. So the activism of Jesus is recharged and he rushes to overcome the barriers that separate the saved from entering into the presence of God. As the Creed says, he descended into hell (here the abode of the righteous who could not enter heaven before the redeeming act of Jesus on Calvary). Now the gates of heaven are opened to all.
For Christians who follow the suffering and death of Jesus each year, a hiatus happens so believers can catch their breath between the roller coaster dip of Good Friday and the soaring expectations of a grand Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday involves the anticipation of the coming of the Risen One -- and this event begins after dark on Holy Saturday. We start a mini-bonfire and from that fire light a taper for the Easter Candle that is blessed in a very special manner. From the light of this Pascal Candle, tapers are lit for all in the congregation; suddenly we hear "Light of Christ" coming in the darkness. Upon arriving at the altar the "Exsultet" is proclaimed in a fitting and solemn manner, and the entire building is illumined by light. A New Fire inspires all with faith who listen to the Scripture's words, Salvation History.
On this most holy night after Jesus the holy one rises, we renew baptismal vows, rejecting Satan and taking holy fire to an awaiting world. Fire can destroy the combustible; fire can purify by turning ore to iron; fire can burn us and yet cook our meals and light our way. Firemen put out fires and other types of firemen stoke fires in a furnace. Learning to control fire is the first great act of human civilization, a moment in our long history worth celebrating. Infants and youth are fascinated with matches and fire. We are drawn to light like moths; we comfort ourselves by stove, hearth and campfire. We seek to be on fire with love.
Prayer: Lord, prepare us for the finality of our earthly journey and help us to enter into the blaze of eternal life.
It is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead.
Easter Sunday is a new day: Christ has risen; Christ is expected to come again to usher us to eternal life; Christ is present to all believers. Our hearts are filled through faithful remembrance, by hopeful promise, and through overwhelming joy. The excitement of Peter and John and Mary Magdalene extends to our becoming Easter people. The reality of the Risen Lord is a spiritual moment of excitement and an event in the lives of believers down through the ages. The Lord is New Life; he goes before us and beckons us to follow.
We all must die, for that is a natural occurrence for all plants and animals -- and human beings as well. But resurrection after death is a supernatural event, for to die and now come back to life exceeds natural expectations. Yet this is the heart of Christian faith. The gentle and loving hand of God is at work. The resurrected Jesus reveals a grand activity: his walk to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-45); his appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18); and the Easter conversations with his disciples where "peace be with you" is his theme (John 20:19-31).
Jesus shows serenity in his presence with the believing Church as a community (I Corinthians 12:12-31). The resurrected Jesus confronts Peter, who goes off fishing with friends, that Peter and the others have important work ahead (John 21: 2ff.); Peter is forgiven for denying Jesus on Good Friday and is made ready for greater things. The withdrawal that all had done but John is now made new through the effort of weak people to be given strength though the power of the resurrection event. A new energy arises.
Easter announces a future for all who believe. Down through the ages believers await their own personal resurrection event into eternal life -- a blessing and gift extending life eternally with Christ. Life over death will be victorious as darkness gives way to light. Christ's victory encourages us to face the present moment with its troubles. We are invited into the divine family, and thus the graciousness of God extends that event of Jesus' resurrection, living Easter joy in the here and now. Jesus wants us to express this event through enthusiasm, for the risen Lord is within us. Each of us can help bring about transformation in the lives of others. We forgive them in loving solidarity so that the human family embraces all. We invite them to journey together beyond an eternal horizon. Within this atmosphere of forgiveness we start anew, and together with others can heal our Earth -- an Easter event involving us all.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to peer into the empty tomb and find faith to believe that in your rising we are truly empowered to act.
I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father...If you ask anything in my name I will do it. (John 14:12,14)
The Easter event of Christ's Resurrection gives us hope in a victory in which we are engaged, namely saving our threatened Earth through our own participation. We are called to work with others in this grand enterprise in a harmonious manner. The Resurrected Jesus, in whom we believe, accompanies us in doing this immense task of preserving the very vitality of our planet. Really we accompany him -- divine and human in harmony. False humility says to leave this work to others; however, resurrection spirituality energizes us to take on this work with hope of victory, if we act in collaboration with others who believe in a future. In the promise of immortality we are tempted to stop and motionlessly gaze at an eternal aspect of our destiny. Then we have second thoughts: we must go forward for we are called to act as activists.
Let us consider in turn the theological aspect of the Easter mystery and then venture into extending this to all our scientific and technical pursuits. In our trust in God we assume a natural theology, namely, a world containing the image of God that calls for revelation in its fullness. And we are the ones who discover harmony existing in the natural order of plants and animals. We are expected not to disturb or exploit that order, but rather to build on it -- to be in resonance with the natural world. When we do these things using modern technology, communications, arts and science, then the image of God becomes ever more present to all.
Easter Time gives us a fresh look at an ever shortening time experience from an environmental perspective -- "an ever shortening window of healing our wounded Earth." Time for each of us has dimension; the present urgency is influenced by past experience and the indeterminacy of future possibilities and hopes for possible peace and harmony. It is not for me a "Buddhist present moment," devoid of past experience and future hopes. For me, time has always been the present as a coalescing of past history and future possibility. This past and future charges the HERE of our threatening planetary conditions with urgency and an emerging and ever more important NOW in our service to others. Thus time draws us into activistic collaboration; this is the moment of salvation.
But this urgency has the imperative to engage in an activity that harmonizes with the legitimate cultural commons of fellow human beings, and the shared hopes and aspirations of those who believe in the future. Harmony emerges, for here the divine and human interact. For the Christian believer, God's divine harmonics of interacting persons is our model -- and that invites a host of future reflections.
Prayer: Lord, open to us the fullness of the empowerment of the Easter graces so that we can work together for change.
Iris verna, dwarf iris. Red River Gorge, KY.
March 29, 2016 Divine Love as Primordial Resonance
The environmental work of healing our wounded Earth must find resonance within the our Creator for all things resonate with divinity. We as human beings must work together, for the task is immense and collaboration is imperative. We work together to bring renewal to a wounded Earth and look to our God for assistance in what we are called to do. What was created in harmony needs to be re-created in like manner. God's creative and redeeming actions are done in the harmony of the Trinity; thus the reality emerges that we are to heal and show God's likeness in our actions. If done successfully, this is a process that is in perfect resonance with the saving power of God in the Easter mystery -- renewing a damaged creation. The manner in which God works and redeems is the manner that truly Easter people are called to heal.
For believers in these troubled times, we need to trust in God (who we love and serve with our whole being), and to connect with others in this vast social undertaking of love and service to our neighbor. Our way of acting is the manner in which Jesus loves and serves. This is more than an academic proof for the existence of God and a rationale for being charitable to others; this healing has the hallmarks of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection; we are to immerse ourselves and suffer with the Lord so as to rise with him. Let us then venture to state a needed postulate:
The healing act done in collaboration (resonance) with others is an irreversible process to bring about a New Earth; it is a replication and continuation of the act of Divine Love by which God creates and saves our damaged world.
Divine love is the primordial form of resonance; it is what resounds throughout the world in harmony with the Big Bang. We are not lone trajectories acting in a hostile world as self-righteous warriors; we are people in need of God's love and called to extend that love to others. God is love and the interactive relations among the three Divine Persons of the Trinity is the primary act of love that goes out to all creation. Through love, the world is being created, for God loves all creation. When we love another, we perform a godlike activity; when we make life better for another, whether human or the habitats of sensate animals, we extend love to our neighbors. We enhance a resonance already existing but not totally realized -- the basic resonance of all beings, that act deeply felt but seldom expressed reechoing throughout the universe, a part of the Good News we proclaim.
God expresses divine love in the creative act, and in the movement of order out of chaos. Our healing affirms life -- not some interpretation of a dying world, a closed system "entropy." In healing our Earth we are called to reorder the ways in which we have engaged work, not some movement to chaos, but rather making right the chaotic condition of our own weakness and exploitation.
Prayer: Lord, help us to participate in a healing re-creation.
Ripples in water along the shoreline of Lake Superior.
March 30, 2016Resonance: An Intuitive Perspective
Easter signals the ongoing enhanced building of a New Heaven and New Earth, an ongoing creative act. It is a resounding or reechoing of the creative act, of which all the cosmos resonates in the full depth of meaning. An ordering out of chaos is a more intense reordering of a world damaged by the chaos of sin and exploitation. Healing takes on many resonating aspects:
* music with harmony by player, audience and instrument;
* visual arts that are beautiful in pleasing color and design; * dramatic arts that give bodily motion to sound;
* compassionate care when caregiver comforts sufferer;
* constructing housing leading to good, safe lodging;
* peacemaking that brings harmony to warring factions.
We "harmonize" when we sing and enjoy and work together. Other members of the animal kingdom, such as dairy cows, show greater contentment when listening to good music. On the other hand, discord is something to be avoided, for it goes against our wellbeing. Those who promote discord are said to have "bad vibes" and that affects plant and animal life, from bird nesting to worm grunting (pounding on a staked heavy truck spring to bring earth worms to the surface of the ground for capture). An entire world seeks harmony because God is source of harmony and the divine likeness. All aspects touch our unsatisfied contemplative nature.
At this time in history, with the window closing on the very vitality of our Earth due to human caused climate change, we must be contemplatives in action. We are willing and able to use those practices that enhance our harmony, while always intuiting a deeper message coming from music, art, agriculture, construction, knowledge of the universe, and from healing our wounded Earth. We drift even in our involved action to deeper levels of resonance.
Resonance is the common cause of sound production in musical instruments; by proper instrument construction and performance that quality can be greatly enhanced for our benefit. Artistic harmony speaks to us in color and design; resonance images in chemical structures intrigue us; mathematical models open a door to a universe that is part of the arrow of time in which all participate in some manner. No, past scientific theories of determinism do not satisfy, for the world is being created and is opening to new possibilities that deserve reflection.
Our intuitive nature enters into the vibrations of possibility, all wrapped in the healing mantel of the Easter Mystery. There is more in store! The arrow of time with its uncertainty offers us greater promise for explaining our current journey. Ilya Prigogine, the 20th century Nobel Prize winner, finds resonance meaningful in his Order out of Chaos and other books. Healing opens our minds and hearts to further connections.
Prayer: Lord, help us to find in each of the many resonances of this world an echo of the harmony of your divine persons.
Gardening means bringing order out of the chaos of an unproductive piece of land. We serve as orderers though working with simple humus, root of the word humility. In times past, and even today, some are convinced that gardening is a lowly task from the standpoint of movers and shakers of the world. For them, "Anyone with little academic training or expertise can be a gardener." Actually, the condescension shown to tillers of the land is quite belittling. It takes a noble spirit and a focus on planning and work to become a successful gardener, for there is little recognition or moral support except for grateful people who benefit from the produce resulting from work involved.
Sometimes gardeners may be down and out, bone‑tired and feeling that there's little success to their efforts, along with a lack of confidence that the fragile plants will yield fruit. Others may label this a short-term depression -- something akin to the cabin fever of late winter. Let's not panic and run out to see a doctor for an anti-depressant prescription. The inspiration comes to return to the garden of past pride and enjoyment in order to become rejuvenated. That is what spring is all about.
Picking up the hoe is a moment of new-found peace of soul. It could be at any time of the year, but more frequently in the bleakness of very early spring; this is when the refreshing garden works wonders for our spirits. Life, ever so fragile, is starting anew and we are there to join in a joyful mood.
Dependable gardens with a past history of benefits are like old pet dogs or well-worn shoes: they ever so gently uplift our flagging spirits. The garden is a locus of loving care, whether performed today or at other times. Loving concern has been given and in my moment of need, it is returned. That mutual supportive process gives new meaning to life and makes the little mishaps and obstacles seem ever so trivial. Earth contributes to our rejuvenated spirits and the garden is capable of inspiration in very humble ways.
Gardens were the settings of Eden and the starting of the human experience; a garden was where the monumental Easter event occurred: creation and re-creation. Let's take a serious look at our humble garden, not a place of escape or refuge but as the sacred location from where we become refreshed agents of change. Our garden has a role to play and its insignificance to others is its glory in our personal struggle in life.
Prayer: Oh Master Gardener, our personal gardens beckon us to help create an atmosphere where budding crops portray success of our efforts. We become time involved, maturing in the work that has to be done. We enhance growth by diligent care of creatures entrusted to us and acting through your grace. Keep us from losing heart; give us the energy to continue to take pride in the modest efforts that we undertake. Let that pride be not in our achievements, but in those successes you, Lord, deem to accomplish through us.